Independence Day.

“Nobody knows anything. We’ll take this leap, and we’ll see. We’ll jump, and we’ll see. That’s life.”

– Joe Versus the Volcano

On my last night on Cashio Street, after all the boxes had been packed, the remaining contents of my living room divided up into items to donate and items to keep, I sat perched on the ledge of my patio, just outside my front door, my back pressed up against the hard stucco wall, legs folded into my chest, staring out into the clear night sky.

The air was still warm, and a quarter moon hung just above my neighbor’s red-tiled roof. It was June 29th – five days before Independence Day – but the sound of fireworks had already begun to echo throughout the neighborhood. Boom! That one distant, then another, a few minutes later, closer this time. Excited voices, talking fast, carried throughout the night. The sounds of the impending holiday weekend. The sounds of summer.

I had more to do, but too exhausted to move from my spot on the ledge, I sat, drinking champagne from a pink ceramic coffee mug, taking it all in. I’d been back from New York for just over a week, and in that time my neighbors and I had hosted a yard sale, I’d held two casting sessions for my new play, and I’d gone through, packed up, thrown out, and donated most of the contents of the last eighteen years of my L.A. life.

It was the last part that had contributed the most to my fatigue. When I’d moved into this one bedroom bungalow on Cashio Street just over three years ago, I was in dire straits. The move had happened quickly, urgently, with little thought other than to go as fast as I could. I’d shoved papers and photos and notebooks into clear plastic bins and pushed them underneath my bed, out of sight, out of mind. I didn’t have the emotional fortitude to sort through mementos of the life I used to have, or the person I used to be.

A lot has changed in three years. Almost without noticing, I went from a person whose spine had been compressed by guilt, grief, shame, fear, anger and regret, to someone who had learned, little by little, to set down the weight of all the things she’d been carrying. I learned it through therapy, through writing, through the kindness and love of friends and family, through travel, through opening myself up to new experiences. But mostly, I learned it the only way a person can learn to heal: through the passage of time.

Leafing through my old notebooks, among all the bits of character dialogue, the story ideas, the pages of memoir, the musings for this blog, I found some quotes I’d copied down from the movie Joe Versus the Volcano. That quirky, offbeat romantic comedy has long been one of my favorites, but in recent years, the fable about a man who only learns to live when he thinks he’s going to die has taken on fresh significance. I wouldn’t dare be so dramatic as to claim that I’d been on the verge of death, but in recent months, I do feel as though something within me that I thought I’d lost has come back to life. It’s something resembling believing in hope again, something resembling a belief that for the first time in a very long time, good things are coming my way.

As I sat on the patio ledge on my last night on Cashio Street, looking down on the warm squares of red tile beneath my feet, looking out at the lone palm tree stretching up into the clear night sky, I knew that as sad as I was to leave this place, I was ready. And the reason I was ready was because the time I had spent there had given me everything I needed: time to grieve, to rebuild, to find the courage to become the person I had always wanted to be. And with the sound of fireworks echoing in the distance, I whispered just two words, a sort of prayer.

Thank you.

Until next time, friends.

The Great Unknown.

A long December and there’s reason to believe/

Maybe this year will be better than the last/

I can’t remember the last thing that you said as you were leavin’/

Now the days go by so fast.

– Counting Crows

IMG_6165

I’m not very good at New Year’s resolutions. Oh sure, I make them. I make them every year, without fail. I’m just not very good at keeping them.

I approach every New Year with renewed enthusiasm, determined that this year will be the year that all of my dreams come true. But anyone who’s ever abandoned their resolve before the close of January will likely agree: it’s one thing to make grand promises in a happy, hopeful champagne haze as the clock strikes midnight, and quite another to do the hard work of goal setting, holding yourself accountable, and meeting the necessary self-imposed deadlines on the way to achieving personal growth.

But this January, I stand on the precipice of a very different year. It’s a year where change is inevitable. A year that has challenged me to live differently. A year that has proposed a dare.

Shortly after my grandfather died, I returned to Los Angeles to discover that the small company I’ve worked at for the last 11 years – essentially my entire adult life – had been sold. There was a new job waiting for me in another state. But not just any state:  it was the state where I was born, where members of my family lived, and where I’d been thinking about moving back to. Surely this was the universe giving me a sign, right?

Well, maybe not. The closer I looked at the job and the ways my life would change if I accepted it, the more the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach grew. While a piece of my heart would always reside in the Pacific Northwest, it was actually all of the time I had recently spent there seeing my grandfather through hospice that opened my eyes to how much I still love my life in L.A. True, Los Angeles can be a harsh and difficult place to live, but it’s also a place of tremendous energy and excitement. It has been my home for fifteen years, and in that time I have built a solid community of amazing friends and gifted creative collaborators. I had been seriously considering leaving L.A., but after my grandfather died, I realized that I wasn’t ready to. There was still too much left undone – opportunities unexplored, projects unfinished – for me to walk away now. If I left before I felt ready, I knew I’d be filled with regret.

IMG_0751

Still, staying in L.A. meant no job, and stability had always been important to me. In contrast to my old position with the small company – where I’d sacrificed pay increases for the ability to work from home, maintain a flexible schedule, and have a tremendous amount of autonomy – this new company was much bigger, and much more corporate. It was a grown-up job. I’d be an integral part of their marketing team, with the ability to climb the corporate ladder and build an impressive resume. This job was a sure thing.

But once I got really quiet and listened to my inner voice, I realized that there is no such thing as a “sure” thing. Here’s what I believe instead: we trick ourselves into investing in “safe” choices and manufacturing the illusion of security to distract ourselves from the terrifying truth that everything goes away. Even us. Anyone who has ever received that phone call, or that diagnosis or that pink slip knows that the foundation upon which we build our lives is fragile, and it only takes a sudden, unexpected gust of wind to send everything tumbling down.

I never thought that, at thirty-five, both of my parents would be dead, and my grandparents, too. I never thought that I’d get married, and that it wouldn’t work out. I never thought that the company I had worked at since I was twenty-three would leave the state, taking my job with it.

But all of those things happened. I wasn’t ready for any of them, but they happened all the same.

IMG_2251

My father was a serious risk taker. I wish I was more like him. In truth, I’m kind of a chicken. Not Dad. He preferred to put it all out on the line and roll the dice. Sometimes, he lost, and he lost big. But he also won, and his winnings made him tremendously successful. It is because of that success and the money that resulted from it that I realized something else: I don’t have to settle for a life I don’t want to live.

A few days before Christmas, I turned down the “safe” job to stay in L.A. For the first time in my life, I’m going to see what it means to not work in service of someone else, but instead to invest in building my dreams and the higher vision of my life. It is a choice that terrifies me, but it is the only choice that I could make. Here’s something else that I believe: my fear is less about running out of the money my parents left me and more about the fact that taking accountability for my life means that there’s no one else to blame if it all goes wrong.

So here I go. This New Year, I am plunging into the great unknown. I am filled with gratitude for the gift my parents have given me, and filled with fear that I’ll screw it up. But my gratitude is bigger than the fear. So is my determination. And so is the quiet, unwavering voice inside of me telling me that this is the right thing to do.

It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe/

Maybe this year will be better than the last/

I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself/

To hold on to these moments as they pass/

And it’s one more day up in the canyon/

And it’s one more night in Hollywood/

It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean . . . I guess I should.

Until next time, friends

IMG_2209

 

 

Things my mother never did, part two.

I dreamt about my mother last night.  It was the first time I’d dreamt about her in awhile, at least that I remember.  I used to dream of her often after she died.  They were horrible, wrenching dreams.  Dreams in which she cried out to me to help her, but in which, one way or another, I was never able to.  Inevitably, I woke from these dreams sweating, sobbing, sometimes crying out.  And like my mother, unable to be helped.

Scan 142120026-2

Last night’s dream was different.  My mother and I were alone in a vacant old house.  She was as rail thin as I remember her the last time I saw her, six weeks before she died.  Her eyes had the same vacant, staring look, like black holes peering into the distance.  I pleaded with her to eat something, but she just shook her head no.  And then I noticed something strange:  my mother had in her possession a large black satchel full of food.  She had refused to eat anything, no matter how much I pleaded with her, yet she was hoarding food, stockpiling it.  To what end?

I woke to a still dark apartment in the early morning hours and I sat, frozen in my bed, utterly stunned by the sharp clarity with which I remembered every detail of my dream.  A phrase popped into my head:  “There was nothing you could do.”  And then another:  “It wasn’t your fault.”  Both phrases circled through my brain over and over until I became dizzy and I wept, hoping they were true.

Scan 142500001-2

I don’t know why my mother appeared to my subconscious mind in such a strange fashion after so long of an absence.  It may have something to do with the fact that as I write this, I’m sitting in the international terminal at LAX, waiting to board a flight that will take me the furthest away from home I’ve been for the longest among of time I’ve been away since my mother died, the prospect of which has me both exhilarated and terrified.  Or it may have something to do with the fact that since WordPress republished my blog post Things My Mother Never Did two weeks ago, I’ve heard from hundreds of people all over the world in countless heartfelt messages.  Messages of encouragement, of heartbreak, of hope, of loss, of dysfunction and love, all revolving around the most fundamental, yet often, the most anguishing relationship out there:  that of parent and child.  And over and over again, throughout all of the messages and the reblogs, the overwhelming theme has been this:  “Thank you for writing this.  I thought I was the only one.”

How can it be that there are so many of us, yet we still feel so desperately alone?  Well, let me be the first to tell you, friends, you are not alone.  As scary as it is for me to tell my dark family secrets, I will continue to do so.  Because the only way out is through, and for me, through is a road paved with honesty.

My mother was the love of my life.  I’m still angry with her.  I’m still racked with guilt that I couldn’t save her.  And I’m not running from either one of these truths.  But, as I embark on this journey, the first big scary adventure of my new life – the life dedicated to all the Things My Mother Never Did – I hope that for all of you out there who have so lovingly and kindly reached out to me, I hope that I can offer you some inspiration about forging a path back to acceptance and love, a path forged straight through forgiveness.  A path in which you are the architect of your own life.

Thank you to everyone who wrote me.  You have no idea how grateful I am.

Here I go!

Until next time, friends.

x

Sarah

Main blog photo chrome filter

 

On depression, and empathy.

Matthew: What are you working on?

Cory: Actually, I’m working on a book about the depression.

Matthew: So, you have an interest in historical material?

Cory: My depression. I’m writing a book about my depression.

Matthew: I see.

Cory: It’s an epic.

From the play, Private Eyes, by Steven Dietz

IMG_1435

I have an embarrassing admission to make. For most of my life, I didn’t believe that depression was a real, legitimate thing. Don’t get me wrong, I have always known that it exists, but as someone, who, for the most part, always found it pretty easy to be happy, I took it for granted that other people could do the same. I dismissed those who were frequently sad – including my own mother – as negative, or simply not trying hard enough. Like most people, I would get an occasional case of the blues – the result of a tough day or receiving some bad news – but I found that if I just went for a run, or watched a funny movie, or played some upbeat music, I could chase away the doldrums pretty easily. This too shall pass.  Because it always did.

And then, in an instant, everything changed. My dad got sick. My mom went crazy. They both died. On the heels of my mother’s death, my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Suddenly, she too, was gone. And in the midst of it all, a close friend from college dropped dead in the gym of his apartment building, less than two weeks after his 31st birthday. A life full of promise cut abruptly short. Just like that.

All of this happened in the space of less than a year. For a while, I was in shock, moving from one tragedy to the next. But eventually, I was forced to confront the person left standing: me. A series of impossible events held a mirror up to my own life and what it reflected back was soul-searing. I was lost, unfulfilled, unhappy, but it was worse than that: I had given up. Given up on my dreams, given up on the idea that I deserved to be happy, given up on the person I had always wanted to be. I didn’t recognize myself anymore, and it was terrifying. Confronted with the choice of change or die, I chose to change. And that’s when things got really scary.

I suddenly found myself alone, trying to build a new life from scratch, with no idea what to do or how to start. I was 33, feeling utterly adrift while everyone around me seemed to have their lives figured out – relationships, kids, fulfilling careers.

And that’s when the sadness shifted into something more: the big D. Depression. For the first time in my life, it was no longer easy to get out of bed. I found social events with even the closest of friends exhausting, and anything that involved meeting strangers nearly unthinkable. My everyday worries and anxieties became worse; an above average fear of heights turned crippling. My motivation to tackle even the most basic of tasks was utterly nonexistent. I (once again) took up smoking, and continued to smoke even though it made me feel sick, taking some sort of perverse pleasure in how destructive it was. I hated myself.

IMG_1312

But I also found something else in my spiral into sadness, something that I didn’t expect: empathy. As a former ‘ happy girl,’ I never understood the monumental effort it could take someone with depression just to get dressed, to leave the house, to plaster on a smile, to make the requisite small talk that fills life’s daily interactions. But now I did. I understood all too well.

I’m pretty sure that depressed people – or at least this depressed person – don’t want to be depressed. If given the chance, they’d prefer to be joyful rather than sorrowful, prefer to find it easy to be with people rather than difficult, prefer to be up, rather than down. Who wouldn’t?

But the thing I never understood until I started wrestling with my own depression was that in the face of all of my friends’ well-meaning advice about focusing on the positive, about choosing to be happy, about the fact that our thoughts make our worlds, for some people, the pursuit of happiness is a constant, ongoing battle. I am tough, and relentlessly stubborn. I don’t give up easily, and throughout this dark period I’ve fought. I’ve worked really damn hard: forcing myself to be social when I didn’t feel like it, exercising regularly, practicing gratitude, joining organizations, going on trips, getting involved in my community, and doing all the things you’re supposed to do to shift your outlook. But the key words here are hard and work. I never could have imagined that a simple quest to feel lighter could be so damn heavy. That the most basic tasks could spend me as though I’d just run miles through beach sand. That sometimes in spite of my best efforts, there wouldn’t be one single solitary thing that would make any of it better.

But here’s the flip side of sitting with this darkness, of living in it, of trying to learn from it: gratitude. I’m grateful for what my struggle has taught me. Being incapable of walking through this phase of my life as anything other than a broken person has stripped away all pretense and artifice. It has attracted people into my life that the old me never would have met, and it has caused me to chase new, different experiences, things the old me never would have done. In my battle to get better, I’ve met some truly beautiful souls – both in person and online through writing this blog – that have known profound pain, pain deeper than anything I’ve experienced. And like me, they too, are doing the best they can.

We all have our particular prejudices, our long-held beliefs, our wealth of experiences that form the framework through which we view the world. Sometimes – as in my case – they can cause us to be too judgmental toward other people, to feel self righteous about their choices. Human beings are naturally curious and though we want to understand each other, sometimes we don’t, we can’t. What the last couple of years have taught me is that there is always more to the story than meets the eye, that no one has it easy, and that, while some of us are better at dealing with hardship, none of us are left unscathed by the joys and sorrows that make up this beautiful, difficult, complicated life.

As a former happy girl currently engaged in the battle to get better, I have learned patience, gained self-awareness, and discovered the true value of gratitude. But empathy, above all, is the gift that my depression has given me.

Until next time, friends.

IMG_1719

Blog at WordPress.com.